Egypt's Political Mayhem Mirrors Chaos on the Streets

Article Summary
Egypt's election committe upheld its decision to ban three leading candidates from next month's election yesterday, sparking accusations that the army is clinging to power. Amina Abou Shehab asks why the road to democracy is so chaotic for Arab nations—and argues that the political mayhem reflects the uptick in senseless violence across the country.   

Arabs have proven that they cannot be the decision makers, even in their own version of democracy. It has proven to be a path in which communities lose their civility and cohesion, devolving into a pre-societal conditions and revert to the rule of the jungle. Everyone—throughout all sectors of society—is in a state of war, replete with disharmony, disintegration and violent conflict. The same is true on the political level, as politics and social relations are part of a dependent relationship in which they are constantly affecting  one another.

Thus an innocent question arises: Why does it seem that these anomalies are necessary conditions  for Arab countries heading towards democracy? Why is it a democracy built upon disintegration, division and violence against society?

If we attributed the horrendous chaos affecting societies to the wars and violence that was necessary to introduce democracy—such as in Libya and Iraq—then how can we explain the hostile and divisive societal state in countries where change occurred peacefully, such as Egypt? The details of what is occurring in Egyptian society during the transitional phase towards democracy have been lost amidst the political developments that busy those studying the Arab Spring. Compiling these details into a cohesive image reveals that society is headed towards the rule of the jungle, as some Egyptian pundits have put it, and portends the loss of another civilized Arab society. This is reminiscent of the fate of Iraq, which had always stood as a symbol of Arab civility.

Throughout the day, a private Egyptian channel covered the successive developments of fierce street clashes between young people caused by a dispute that two young men had over a soda bottle. This incident is an echo of the individual and collective acts of violence that are spreading unfettered throughout society, where the incidences of murder, theft, assault and abduction have risen to dangerous levels.

If civility means respect for the law, then according to experts in criminology and security, the only law currently respected in Egypt is the one taken into your own hands. This entails illegal profiteering through violence and the appropriation of other people’s materials via extortion. A prominent expert in security issues, Dr. Fouad Allam, says that profiteering as a result of ransom payments has become widespread in Egyptian society. The trend started with demands for ransom money for stolen cars, but it has evolved into ransoms for children kidnapped from playgrounds. Parents fear that their children will be abducted; girls are being raped before being released for ransom. Even men are being  kidnapped—with the help of women—and held for ransom, similar to what happened to music composer Salah al-Sharnoubi.

Violence in Egyptian society has reached a level where university students are forced to carry knives and sticks to protect themselves. Among the signs of society’s slide into a state of confrontational chaos is the evident animosity that social institutions hold for one another. They wait for opportune times to exact revenge and assault others. Take, for example, the case of some sports teams and their supporters, which necessitated that matches be canceled outright.

The society of security, safety and peace—as described in the Koran in a passage that claims people “enter [Egypt] in peace and security”—is completely different today. Its characteristics have changed, with fights and murders occurring for the smallest and most trivial of causes: An Egyptian Pound, a bottle of soda, a soccer ball. Even more dangerous is the fact that confrontations between members of society and the state’s institutions and representatives have become daily and commonplace, such as last week's clashes in Salloum, where two died after protestors clashed with the military. To this social commotion one can add the accusations of treason, blasphemy and religious ideological mobilization as a result of the so called democratic elections. This kind of language has been rampant and accusations of treason have covered the pages of Egyptian websites.

What sort of free will and political choice does the silent majority of society possess while it suffers from insecurity and the hardships of daily life? Does this majority have the right to democratically participate in a process when the outcome is predetermined, where politicians are completely detached from the people? This is a raging conflict that threatens our future, in which societal powers are mobilized to fight the hellish conflicts that political powers wage against each other.

A political fight to determine the outcome of the presidential elections parallels a social one; a battle for an individual title that will be decided abroad more than locally. This is not democracy in the given sense of the word; it is a raging “dog-eat-dog” power struggle.

This article, which was originally published on April 12, was truncated to reflect the election commission's decision to ban 10 candidates from the upcoming presidential elections. 

Found in: violence, security, protests, omar suleiman, muslim brotherhood, egyptian revolution, egyptian presidential election, egypt, arab spring, arab society, al-shater

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